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Joe Lieberman’s War

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The senator was looking to shake it off. He needed more people contact. So his driver pulled into a small shopping center nearby. Lieberman spied the Village Wine and Spirit store and walked in, saying, “I’m going back to my roots.”

A customer turned to him and asked, “Is this campaign driving you to drink?” The senator laughed and said, “Yes, but I always stop at liquor stores because of my father.” His father, a Stamford liquor-store owner, died many years ago; Lieberman’s mother passed away last year, and his childhood home was subsequently sold. This marks the year that he can’t go home again, in so many ways.

If Lieberman wins this fall as an independent, he will return to the Senate in a somewhat peculiar position. “The Democrats will almost certainly welcome him back,” says Thomas Mann, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, because they need to count him in the caucus. But there will no doubt be an even greater distrust between Lieberman and Democrats who believe he has sold them down the river before. And as Rutgers professor Ross Baker notes, going to the Senate as an independent “would pretty much finish him for national office.”

Lieberman is hoping it doesn’t come to that and is focusing on winning the primary. The good news for him is that Bill Clinton, whom Lieberman was quick to attack after the Lewinsky scandal, has agreed to come to Connecticut this week to try to shore up Lieberman’s Democratic credentials. (Though Hillary won’t support Lieberman as an independent, she’s the one who arranged her husband’s visit after Lieberman cornered her on the Senate floor and asked for her help.) “Clinton is Mr. Democrat, the last great successful national Democratic leader,” says Lieberman with relief. “I think he will be very important to any Democrats who may be troubled by the allegations that Lamont is making.”

Back in the liquor-store parking lot, a well-wisher yelled, “Go get ’em, Joe!” And he called back, “Spread the word.” He was feeling loose now, so much so that he began telling aides about a dream he’d had the other night in which long-dead Democratic Connecticut governor John Dempsey had walked across a stage and waved at him. Lieberman was puzzled by the dream. It was hard not to wonder what his unconscious was telling him: Was this the Democratic organization from the past wishing the senator well or waving good-bye?

Riding in his blue Grand Marquis to the next event, a press conference overlooking the USS Nautilus submarine, Lieberman turned reflective. “The consequences of defeat are very serious,” he said. “I’m at peace with myself. As long as I feel I’m doing the right thing, I’m okay.” He was referring to the war in Iraq, but he could have just as easily been talking about his own war at home.


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